Just got back from VON Canada 2004, held in Markham from May 18-20. Not the best conference I’ve been to, I’m afraid. Hard copies of the presentations were absent. Attendees didn’t even get notepads. The presentations seemed hastily prepared, with the presenters themselves lacking good public speaking skills. The exhibit area only featured nine exhibitors. Telus was the only “big name” booth there; Bell Canada didn’t even bother to show up.
Carl Pulver rationalized that it was because they had only 10 weeks to prepare – less than half the typical implementation time. This was also their first Canadian VON conference. The catering and the location, the Hilton Suites, was top notch, however. Still, for a conference that cost a cool $2,095 per person for three days, I expected a bit more.
The highlight of the conference was undoubtedly the keynote delivered by the deliciously disruptive Niklas Zennstrom, founder of Skype Technologies SA.
Zennstrom is the creator of Skype, a peer-to-peer Internet telephony software available for free download. (He was also the man behind KaZaa, the P2P application that’s giving the RIAA so much grief.) He mentioned that Skype, currently in beta, will be formally launched in the summer in three different flavours:
- Skype – a free version for customers to engage in high quality PC to PC voice calls to each other.
- PocketSkype – a free version that works on a wireless PocketPC – essentially turning a WiFi-enabled PDA into a VoIP phone.
- Skype Plus – a subscription-based version with voicemail functionality and the ability to call a PC running Skype from a regular POTS phone (POTS to PC).
- SkypeOut – a premium prepaid version that allows PC to POTS phone calling, and compatibility with headsets and cordless phones. Skype Technologies is talking with Seimens and Plantronics on developing Skype-enabled cordless phones and handsfree Bluetooth headsets.
Skype Technologies currently has secured about $18.8 million US in VC funding. While still in trial, Skype boasts over 4 million users worldwide.
Girish Pathak, Chief Customer Strategist, TELUS has a similar but different vision. He thinks businesses should foresightfully consider mobile platforms as the primary method of deployment.
The competitive landscape will become much larger. The providers can be anything from Skype to ILECs. Data systems could be provided by IBM or Microsoft. Finally, the content, such as entertainment, has w vast market of players involved.
He does express doubt in Skype’s success, however, saying the all-too-true adage, “bandwidth isn’t free.” It is true that the IP network is dumb, making the incumbent carrier a fifth wheel, but Pathak believes that the true intelligence of the network will be with the content provider. Whoever can obtain that position, whether they are an ILEC or not, will win in the new VoIP market.